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Cold saves brain function after cardiac arrest

January 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The chance of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital is about 5 percent. Of those patients who stay alive, most experience some loss of brain function. Now there's a new standard protocol in Los Angeles County that not only saves your heart, but also your brain.On January 6, 57-year-old Richard Williams' heart went into full cardiac arrest.

"I must have felt some symptoms and said, 'I need some help,'" said Williams.

Paramedics were nearby. They shocked his heart and got it beating again. But that's not the only hurdle patients like Williams face.

"Many of these patients, 90 percent of them, have some sort of mental deficit after," said Dr. Greg Giesler, an interventional cardiologist at Huntington Hospital.

During a cardiac arrest, oxygen isn't getting to the brain.

Starting this year, all L.A. County hospitals that specialize in treating heart-attack victims now offer a new deep-freeze protocol.

"They just told me that they had somehow lowered my body temperature," said Williams.

Within four hours of reviving a patient, doctors use a cooling blanket to drop the body temperature to 32 degrees Celsius.

"We found that it increases their survival and the ability to have normal brain function, from 10 percent to over 40 percent," said Giesler.

The point of cooling down the body to 32 degrees Celsius using a blanket is to allow the brain's metabolism and system to slow down considerably. That allows the brain to rest and recuperate following a sudden cardiac arrest.

"If someone has an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and has return of normal circulation after defibrillation, this is now the standard of care in Los Angeles County," said Giesler.

Thanks to the cooling therapy, Giesler says Williams' brain function has been saved.

"He is not aware of actually what happened during the event, but his mental function in all his mental status exams are back to total, complete normal," said Giesler.

Giesler says if you call 911 when you're having a heart attack, paramedics may be able to determine the type of heart attack you're having, and they may be able to take you to a hospital designated to treat that specific type of heart attack.